My Real Children

My Real Children by Jo Walton

Published May 2014 by Tor BooksMyRealChildren_Jo-Walton

My Real Children is the story of Patricia Cowan, a British woman that in 2015 is a patient in an old folks’ home, suffering from dementia and spending her days “very confused” in the words of her nurses. We soon come to learn the reason for Patricia’s confusion – she’s experiencing two different sets of memories. In one set, she married Mark, her university paramour, and settled down in the life of a housewife. In the other, she ended the relationship with Mark, embarking on a career as a teacher that eventually leads her to Beatrice, a scientist and fellow educator.

My Real Children is marketed as a story of alternate timelines and history, and it is, but on a more essential level it’s a story of the pursuit of a meaningful life, and the wildly variant forms that that pursuit might take. In both timelines there is a background of international events and news, with the characters’ lives intertwining and influenced by them, but those events are ultimately unimportant to the story – this is a story very clearly centered on Patricia’s life.

Alternate history novels often fall into a simple dialectic of presenting either a utopia or dystopia, presented to contrast against elements of our own society. Walton manages to avoid that with this work, instead presenting two different realities that are significantly different from ours. In both timelines, we see moments of joy and heartbreak; a strong reminder that life is made up both, and often in equal measures. The lives that both versions of Patricia live are wildly different from each other, but in each one we see the same core of a character: a woman of quiet dignity and grace, who does her best to live a meaningful life.

This novel was an incredible work of literature. Walton creates characters that live and breathe beyond the page, and her prose is subtly beautiful and poetic. Patricia’s lives are filled with easily recognizable moments of everyday life, which makes them all the more tragic as we experience them along with her. Throughout Patricia’s lives, Walton creates emotional connections that will stay with the reader long after they’ve turned the last page.


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